June 29, 2016

LA Daily News: A Dodgers fan in Congress pitches a solution to the TV crisis

What will it take for Angelenos to be able to watch Dodgers baseball again?

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission approved the merger between Charter, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House. Unfortunately the merger does not strike at the heart of an important issue for Dodgers fans — they still are unable to watch the Dodgers on TV.

Around this time last year, Dodgers fans missed the team’s opening-day, 15-0 victory over the San Diego Padres. Now with the merger approved by both the FCC and the California Public Utilities Commission, there seems to be no end in sight to the problem New Charter has inherited. For yet another season, Dodgers fans will have to jump through expensive hoops just to watch a game.

As a Dodgers fan myself, I can tell you the first season I couldn’t watch the games on TV was hard. We fans had no clue that this tug-of-war would last so long. Now our frustration has turned into fatigue. I wonder, if this persists, will the Dodger fan base begin to fade? Will this be a textbook case of the old saying “Out of sight, out of mind”?

There are a few pleasures in this nation that are central to the American way of life. Watching your favorite baseball team is one of them. Not only is it also a great American pastime, but being able to support one’s local team by watching games is something fans are proud to do.

There are a lot of things that Dodgers fans would do for their team, but moving across town because their home doesn’t get Time Warner Cable [New Charter] should not be one of them.

This issue impacts not just California’s adults but our kids as well. This blackout has lasted so long that when I visit elementary and middle schools in the San Fernando Valley, I wonder if these kids have any idea that Los Angeles is home to one of the nation’s most historic baseball teams.

How will our youngest generation grow up to follow this tradition without being able to watch Dodgers games on television?

Many of my constituents grew up with the Dodgers and followed their successes with Vin Scully’s renowned and expert commentary. Now Vin Scully has said this is his final season, and less than half of Los Angeles will be able to watch.

Enough is enough. Los Angeles Dodgers fans just want to watch their home team.

So, what can be done?

New Charter and cable distributors need to come together to the negotiating table. When they do, I hope all parties will seriously consider the overwhelming reactions that my Los Angeles Delegation colleagues in Congress and I have heard from our constituents.

While carriage negotiations and telecommunications laws are complex, there are a few situations that have worked in today’s cutthroat media landscape. Just as Los Angeles has SportsNet LA, major cities across the country rely on regional sports networks to broadcast the bulk of baseball games, and also allow for some games to be aired on local stations. For example, this season, the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs will have between 10 and 25 games televised on local stations.

Precedent for negotiating fair-market deals with over-the-air television stations exists and has allowed families all over the country to cheer for their teams without having to purchase an expensive and specific package, switch providers or move.

A deal to air games on a Los Angeles TV station would allow a young generation of Dodgers fans to get a taste of the excitement of baseball and what it’s like to feel pride in a home team. A strong fan base is also good for the team itself and would allow Los Angeles to stand beside the outstanding Vin Scully in his final season, just as he has stood beside Los Angeles in his career.

The world of broadcasting may be complicated, but we can’t forget who is at the end of the deal: millions of fans who just want to watch the Dodgers play ball.

Link to the op-ed in L.A. Daily News